With the announcement he will be on a regional cover of Sports Illustrated this week, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis joined some elite company. Former Orioles including Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and Cal Ripken Jr. have graced the cover of the magazine since its start in 1954, as have decorated athletes like Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan.
It's high praise for a player some thought would never reach his massive potential while in the minor leagues.
"If I can have a career anywhere close to what those guys had in their sports, I'd obviously be pretty excited," Davis said Wednesday, a day after his cover was announced. "It is an honor to be on the cover and for them to use me as kind of a spotlight. But it doesn't change who I am."
Some might see a downside to Davis' recognition. The supposed Sports Illustrated cover jinx has been part of sports superstition for years, which could portend that Davis — who entered Wednesday batting .306 with 45 home runs and 115 RBIs this season — may be in for a rough stretch.
The jinx apparently already struck once this year. Pittsburgh right-hander Jason Grilli appeared on the cover of the July 22 issue, the first appearance by a Pirate since 1992. He strained his right forearm that evening and ended up on the disabled list.
"It isn't like the Madden cover jinx, is it? You're about to get shin-kicked right now for bringing that up," Davis joked Wednesday. "Well, I don't know if there is any way you can avoid it unless you want me to walk around with cloves of garlic on my neck and do all that sort of stuff. It's cool, but we obviously have a lot here to get accomplished and a lot here to stay focused on."
Davis' appearance marks the 17th time that the Orioles will have a player on SI's cover. Last October, outfielders Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Endy Chavez appeared leaping together in celebration of a victory on a regional cover highlighting Baltimore and Washington as "the unlikely sports capital." Catcher Matt Wieters appeared on a cover in March 2010.
"I think it is obviously good for the Orioles anytime you get attention on a stage that big," Davis said. "I think we're obviously doing some things right, and guys are starting to get some well-deserved recognition. I think it started in the All-Star Game having [five] guys there."
Davis is the subject of a feature story by Tom Verducci in the upcoming issue. Orioles third baseman Manny Machado was profiled in the magazine in April.
Some of the Orioles' covers are among the most notable in the magazine's history. The photo of Bill Ripken on a cover in 1988 with the team's 0-18 record is iconic, while both Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson appeared on popular covers in the 1960s and 1970s.
Now, Davis joins that company. And he's handling it like everything else this year — with a sense of humor.
"It's about time," Davis deadpanned. "It's only a matter of time before Chris Davis was on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
"No, I mean, it's cool. Obviously I've been a fan of Sports Illustrated since I was young. My grandfather had quite the collection because he had a subscription for a long time. And when I was a teenager I was sitting at my grandparents' house and I saw like 150 Sports Illustrated issues underneath the coffee table, and I was like, 'Can I have these?' He was like, 'Yeah, I've already read most of them. They're older.' So it's pretty cool."
Table tennis challenge
Table tennis has become a staple in the Orioles clubhouse, with the players establishing their pecking order of dominance through frequent competition.
But Wednesday, the Orioles met their match.
Four junior players from the Maryland Table Tennis Center in Gaithersburg, under the guidance of USA Table Tennis Hall of Famer Larry Hodges, visited Camden Yards for an exhibition and to compete with some of the players in the clubhouse. Earlier this year, Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy and vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson visited the center for a lesson with Hodges and to compete with some of the best young players in the nation.
Among the four players who came to Baltimore on Wednesday were Derek Nie, the 2012 U.S. Open 11-and-under singles champion, and Tong Tong Gong, a 2012 U.S. Open Cadet Boys doubles finalist and singles quarterfinalist.
"They're having a great time," said Hodges, who later sat in a section behind home plate with Nie and Gong during the game. "They were really nervous the first 10 minutes. Now they're relaxed."